Safety Tips for Kayaking the Colorado River

The Colorado River is popularly known as home to the most challenging and wildest rapids across the Southwest. Many rafters have told countless stories about their experience with Class V and IV rapids, having their watercraft swim or flipping over in the freezing-cold waters.

Whether you are looking for quiet paddling with spectacular views or heart-pounding adrenaline adventures, the Colorado River will deliver all that and much more.

The river which runs approximately 1,450 miles rolls out sights of five different states and countless opportunities for spending your days enjoying its views. However, safety is always a major concern when you are kayaking.

While remaining safe on this Colorado stretch is pretty easy, here are some tips to remember during your kayaking adventures.

Check the Level of Skill

Before you head out to Colorado River, you should check the part of the river you want to paddle on the Whitewater International Scale of River Difficulty.  This system rates different sections of the river and the rapids on a level of I to VI depending on the technical skills needed to navigate them.

The scale of difficulty varies as the levels of water change, so you should compare the current water flows usually measured in CFS (cubic feet per second) to the listed average flow. You should also acquaint yourself with the access points of the river to the exit before difficulty rises downstream and to avoid a risky situation above your skill level.

Get Equipped With Safety Gear

Some remote parts of the Colorado River typically require kayakers to carry some safety devices such as a repair kit, river map, extra paddles, and signaling devices. Personal flotation devices are important wardrobe items in these regions. Also, pack enough water for your adventure because the silty water of Colorado renders most water filtration systems futile.

Be Prepared for Anything

Although the waters from Willow Beach to Hoover Dam are relatively flat along this stretch, they still move. Make sure your hands are inside the watercraft while it’s moving and remain seated except if your tour guide tells you otherwise.

The Colorado waters can occasionally become choppy due to river changes or high winds, so you should be prepared well to follow any quick instructions during such times.

Enjoy Your Adventure in Silence

If you are like many travelers, you will have your smartphone ready to take photos during your tour. Silence your phones so that you and your fellow tourists can hear important instructions or information from your tour guide.

Connect with the Wildlife from a Distance

Your river touring guide will call your attention to Hoover Dam wildlife like the occasional coyote, ospreys, and bighorn sheep along your rafting trip. In most cases, these native animals usually steer clear of motorized rafts and humans.

However, at times a stray mammal or bird gets comfortable with travelers. But it’s important to keep a safe distance of around 5 to 10 feet for the small animals, and also avoid handling squirrels, fish or birds even if they appear friendly.

Protect Yourself

In most cases, lunch and water are provided during the trip, but it’s crucial to carry additional fluids to help you hydrate in the desert sun. Put on sunglasses and a hat, and reapply sunscreen during your ride. Experts recommend SPF 30 or higher.

Also, ensure that you wear proper gear. Most casual clothes are good for your Colorado trip but make sure you are comfortable and put on closed-toed shoes. Again, if you plan to swim on the shores, wear swimming gear underneath layered clothing.


Whether you are just getting out of your house to cool off or on vacation, rafting or kayaking in the Colorado River can be an exhilarating and fun activity and an excellent way to enjoy the outdoors regardless of your ability or level of experience.

By listening to your river guide and following the above-listed safety tips your experience and that of your family will be a good one, and you’ll look back on that experience positively for years to come.

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